Wayne Hancock

The Train is coming to town

There was a time, early in Hank Williams' recording career, in 1947, when Williams was swinging pretty hard, when lead guitarist Zeke Turner was permitted to show a degree of uptown flash that would not appear in the later records. And there was a long-standing rumor that Williams had recorded a batch of unreleased rockabilly numbers that might have shifted the historical margins as to just when and how rock and hillbilly first merged and emerged.

The simple truth is, varying combinations of country, swing and boogie were all old news before Elvis or Bill Haley jumped the turnstile and landed in the downy lap of the new voracious teenage wasteland.

I mention this because Wayne "The Train" Hancock is coming to the Rhythm Room, bringing the same combination of postwar country influences: Texas swing, honky-tonk, Memphis boogie and a whole lotta Hank Williams croon.

Hancock first stepped out of the shadows in Chippy, a 1994 musical based on the Depression-era diaries of a West Texas hooker, and it landed him in the company of Joe Ely, Terry and Jo Harvey Allen, Robert Earl Keen, Butch Hancock (no relation), and other Texas cutting-edge front-runners.

Hancock managed to stand out in this rare assemblage, and it wasn't long before he released a series of albums, each of them recorded and mixed in breakneck time. But all of his albums, including the brand-new A Town Blues(Bloodshot Records), contain the same mixture of late '40s themes tucked up under Hancock's nasal Williams vocalese. Each one is like the mystery album Williams never released.

When I asked Hancock if he resents being constantly compared to Hank Williams, he replies, "I don't mind that, you know. I rather they compared me to him than to Glen Campbell."

Hancock travels light -- a 15-seat van that he and the other three members of his band drive from gig to gig. Unfortunately, Hancock's pedal steel player, Jeremy Wakefield, got married recently, and Hancock can't afford to fly him out for the one show. He adds that pedal steel players are all nuts. "It's 'cause they got too many strings for the human mind to deal with. Genius steel players are really strange guys."

In spite of the recent reemergence of all types of Depression-era country music, all Hancock admits to listening to these days is Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Stuff Smith. And while Big Band Swing influences Hancock and his tunes, local audiences had best be prepared for an evening of swinging hillbilly bop, because that's what Hancock does best.

 
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